Every year Ukrainian Canadians from across the Greater Toronto Area come together to commemorate those who fell in the service of their country. Remembrance Day stands as a hallmark to both the living and the fallen. It serves as a reminder of the tremendous sacrifices Canadians and Ukrainians have made so that we who are left remember them.
This year on November 5th, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Toronto Remembrance Day Service commemorated several key moments in Canadian history. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Battles of Vimy Ridge, where Canadian divisions, drawn from troops from all across Canada first fought together as an army corps. According to historian John Pierce, the battle symbolizes Canada’s coming of age as a Nation. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70. The costly assault resulted in the loss of more than 9,000 allied troops. Six Victoria Crosses, the British Empire’s highest award for military valour, were awarded to Canadians after the fighting. Among the recipients was Corporal Pilip Konowal, a Ukrainian Canadian soldier who had enlisted with the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion and fought with the 4th Canadian Division. The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele is also commemorated this year where more than 4, 000 Canadians perished and nine were awarded the Victoria Cross. The 75th Anniversary of the 1942 attempted allied amphibious assault of Dieppe was also commemorated. Of the 5,000 Canadians who took part, less than 2,000 returned home, many of them wounded.
For Ukrainians, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Fighting Nazi and Soviet occupation until the 1950s, many thousands died defending their homeland from oppression. After 23 years of independence, in 2014, Ukraine was invaded yet again. The Ukrainian Canadian community continues to lament the loss of almost 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers who have perished since 2014 in the Russian Federation’s invasion and continuing war of aggression in Ukraine.
UCC Toronto Remembrance Day Service also serves to honours those who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces today, preserving freedom and opposing tyranny at every turn. Consequently, Canadian Forces have deployed to Central and Eastern Europe as part of NATO assurance measures. Since 2015, Canadian troops have been deployed to Ukraine as part of Operation UNIFIER to support Ukrainian Armed Forces in Ukraine.
In his address, Andre Sochaniwsky CD, President of the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada, emphasized the importance of Canada’s ongoing, capacity – building mission in Ukraine. He remarked how proud he was to see Canadian and Ukrainian troops on parade in Kyiv to mark Ukraine’s 26th year of Independence.
This year the UCC Toronto Remembrance Day service was held at St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church. More than 400 people attended the event despite the inclement weather. A large birch commemorative cross was erected for the service at the front of the church. The touching memorial service ended with a moving rendition of “Vichnaya Pamyat” (Forever Remembered), the traditional Ukrainian memorial service song for the deceased. The reveille and last post were separated by a Piper’s lament followed by the stirring Ukrainian lament “Plyve Kacha”.
The wreaths were then laid at the foot of the large commemorative birch cross by representatives of Canadian federal, municipal and municipal governments including Borys Wrzesnewskyj, MP Etobicoke Centre, Yvan Baker, MPP for Etobicoke Centre; and Natalia Lischyna, Town of Oakville Councilor, Ward 6. Representing the Ukrainian government was Andrii Veselovskyi, Consul General of Ukraine in Toronto who placed a wreath on behalf of the government of Ukraine. The wreath laying continued with representatives of various Ukrainian community organizations as they were called forward to pay their respects and lay their wreaths at the foot of the cross.
In the end, over thirty beautiful wreaths graced the foot of the memorial cross against the backdrop of the Icon wall at St. Demetrius. In his closing remarks, the President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Toronto Branch, Taras Bahriy, spoke of the importance to honour the lives and contributions not only of those who fought for freedom throughout history, but those who fight for freedom from tyranny and oppression today.
Bohdan Cherniawski is a Canadian Forces veteran who serves as the chair of the Remembrance Day Committee at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Toronto Branch.